Obama's choice: Merrick Garland, nominee for the Supreme Court

By Rosalind Helderman, David Fahrenthold, Tom Hamburger

Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, left, accompanied by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Photo / AP
Federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland, left, accompanied by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden. Photo / AP

Merrick Garland, whom US President Barack Obama nominated to fill an open Supreme Court seat, is a longtime jurist who once gave up a lucrative career at a law firm to become a federal prosecutor - and later led the massive prosecution of the men who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

Garland, 63, was appointed to the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia in 1997 after being confirmed by the US Senate. This time around, though, Senate Republican leaders promised to block any Supreme Court appointment by Obama, even before Garland's name was known.

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden today, Garland choked up with emotion at several points in his remarks. He said his ancestors had left Eastern Europe to avoid anti-Semitic persecution and that his parents had instilled in him a desire for public service.

"I know that my mother is watching this on television and crying her eyes out," Garland said.

"I only wish that my father were here to see this today."

Garland's father ran an advertising business out of the family basement - "the smallest of small businesses," Garland said. His father died in 2000.

Garland has been married for more than 25 years and has two daughters. He joked that he had taught his children to be adventurous - perhaps too well. "I only wish that we hadn't taught my older daughter to be so adventurous that she would be hiking in the mountains, out of cell service range, when the President called," he said.

Garland became chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit - seen as the most prestigious appeals court second only to the Supreme Court - in 2013.

Obama had considered him for the Supreme Court nominee twice before, in 2009 and 2010, before choosing another nominee each time: first Sonia Sotomayor, then Elena Kagan.

Sandee Blechman, a longtime friend of Garland's, said Garland had told her after those episodes that he was worried that - if another vacancy opened on the court - he would be considered too old to be nominated.

In this case, Obama cast Garland as an uncontroversial pick - making pointed references to Garland's long service in government and his ties to Republican administrations.

Garland, Obama noted, had clerked for two judges appointed by President Dwight Eisenhower, and he had signed up as a federal prosecutor under President George H.W. Bush.

"He took a 50 per cent pay cut . . . for a windowless closet [office] that smelled of stale cigarette smoke," Obama said.

In that position, as an assistant US attorney in Washington, Garland aided in one of the city's most famous political cases: the prosecution of then-Mayor Marion Barry on drug charges in 1990.

In discussions of possible Supreme Court picks, "the one name that has come up repeatedly - from Republicans and Democrats alike - is Merrick Garland," Obama said.
Among friends and colleagues, Garland is known for his meticulous nature - which stands out, even in the meticulous worlds of high-profile prosecutions and high-stakes legal appeals.

"When people offered to turn over evidence voluntarily, he refused, taking the harder route of obtaining the proper subpoenas instead," said Obama, talking about Garland's oversight of the Oklahoma City case.

"Merrick would take no chances that someone who murdered innocent Americans might go free on a technicality."

The same trait showed up in less-serious interactions, too. On the way to his 30th high school reunion, for instance, Garland brought his old yearbook to study on the plane. A friend, Blechman, said he did not want to wing it and take the chance that he would not recall names and faces.

"It's an example of Merrick's incredible thoroughness and his real desire to be able to connect with people," Blechman said. She said it worked: At the reunion, Garland circulated through the room, greeting people by name. "He was able to impress everyone. And we couldn't - because we hadn't done our homework."

And inside his court chambers, Garland was known for his desire not to play favourites among the four clerks who worked for him at any given time. So, if he wandered into an office to banter with one of them, there had to be banter for all.

A clerk would hit what was called the "banter button"- really just a phone line to the other clerks' office nearby - and the small talk would resume with everyone included.
"We would call the other clerks and say 'come on over, we're bantering,"' said one former clerk, who asked not to be named. "Garland didn't want anyone to feel left out."

Garland grew up in Lincolnwood, Illinois, a suburb on the North Shore of Lake Michigan, outside Chicago.

"He's brilliant, always has been," said Earl Steinberg, a friend who has known Garland since kindergarten and was best man at his wedding. "He was always the person voted most likely to succeed."

Steinberg said Garland was president of the student council at his public high school, captain of the school's quiz bowl team and a star on the school debate team. He ran track and wrestled and appeared in school plays.

Garland was valedictorian of his high school class.

Steinberg recalled a story that Obama also recounted in the Rose Garden: Just before Garland was to speak at their graduation ceremony, another student delivered remarks condemning the Vietnam War and the plug to the microphone was pulled - apparently by an angry father in the crowd.

Then it was Garland's turn to speak.

"All of us were murmuring, 'how could this happen, how could this happen?' None of the school officials stood up and objected, and the poor speaker had to sit down," said Barry Rosen, a lawyer who has been friends with Garland since the fifth grade.

"So Merrick gets up, and the very first thing he says is about the importance of freedom of speech in America and how the strength of our country is the diversity of people's views and our willingness to hear people and hear their views, and to address those views on their merits."

"It was a stunning moment," Rosen said. "Really one of the more amazing moments of life."

Rosen said Garland then went on to deliver his planned remarks - on the importance of voting in a democracy.

The same political turmoil also affected a trip that Garland took to the White House as a high schooler, after he won a presidential honour based on his SAT scores. Daphne Kenyon, an economist who won the award along with Garland, said their group was supposed to meet then-President Richard Nixon.

But then there was a rumour that some of the honorees planned an anti-war protest, Kenyon said.

Nixon cancelled. The group met with presidential daughter Tricia Nixon instead.

Garland arrived at Harvard intending to study medicine, said Steinberg, who roomed with him for four years at Harvard and became a doctor. But Garland quickly found pre-med classes not to his liking, Steinberg said. Instead, he took a seminar at the law school. One day, Steinberg recalled, Garland received a phone call from the prominent professor of the class to discuss a paper he had written.

At first, he was terrified. Then the professor spoke. "He told him, 'I don't know what grade to give it. But I've given it an A plus. It's the best paper I've ever seen in a seminar,'" Steinberg recalled.

Asked to name a weakness of his friend - who will be officiating the wedding of his daughter in three weeks - Steinberg struggled, then came up with an answer.

"He can't cook," Steinberg said. "But he can eat."Garland received both his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard, then became a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter. He then joined the government to become a prosecutor.

"The thing that is most striking about his career choices is the step to leave his partnership at Arnold and Porter and become and become a journeyman prosecutor in the US attorney's office," said Lincoln Caplan, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School, who has known Garland since their time together in law school.

"It was the move of someone who wanted to have a particular kind of experience. He wanted to learn the ropes of being a prosecutor from a junior level."

Garland became a top official who helped to oversee prosecutions nationwide.
Fellow prosecutors and top officials at the US Justice Department recall gathering in Garland's office in April 1995 as word filtered through the corridors of the Justice Department of a devastating explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

"We saw bodies of those young children being pulled out of the rubble," said Jamie Gorelick, then the deputy attorney general and Garland's boss.

"It was enormously moving to us on many levels, including as parents of young children."

Garland, she remembered, told her: "You need to send me there."

"We needed to [send] someone who could assure that the investigation was perfect, that our system is the admirable system of justice that it is, and someone who could coordinate thousands of agents and many U.S. attorneys and all of the state and local resources. And he did all of that," Gorelick said.

Others former colleagues agreed with her assessment.

"There is no question that this is the grand slam nomination," said Seth Waxman, who worked with Garland at Justice and later became solicitor general under President Bill Clinton.

"This is someone who is not given over to passion or quick judgments in his personal and his professional life. He is one of the most careful and thoughtful people you can imagine. He is thoughtful, dispassionate and he is incredibly deliberative."

A political storm: Reactions to Merrick Garland's nomination

Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz:

He says he stands with his Republican colleagues in the Senate in opposing President Barack Obama's pick for the Supreme Court. He said that Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland "is exactly the type of Supreme Court nominee you get when you make deals in Washington".

Cruz said if Garland were confirmed, he would undermine Second Amendment gun rights, legalise late-term abortions and empower "overreaching bureaucratic agencies". Cruz has said he does not want the Senate to vote on any nominee until after the next president is sworn into office.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders:

He says Garland is a strong nominee for the Supreme Court and argues that refusing to hold hearings for his nomination would be unprecedented. Sanders notes that Garland has decades of experience on the bench. Sanders says Obama has done his job by nominating Garland and that Senate Republicans now must do theirs.

Sanders is calling on Republicans to hold confirmation hearings and bring the nomination to the floor of the Senate if Garland is approved by the Judiciary Committee.

Republican presidential candidate Governor John Kasich:

He says Obama should not rush to nominate. He told a crowd at Villanova University that the president shouldn't "stiff the legislative body" by rushing to a decision that isn't in the country's best interest. Said Kasich: "If I think I'm gonna blow something up in the seventh year, I'm not gonna do it".

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:

She says Garland has a "brilliant legal mind and a long history of bipartisan support and admiration" and it's up to the Senate to perform their Constitutional duty "they swore to undertake".

Clinton says the confirmation of a justice "should not be an exercise in political brinkmanship and partisan posturing". She says it's a "serious obligation" that doesn't depend "on the party affiliation of a sitting president, nor does the Constitution make an exception to that duty in an election year".

She notes the Senate has never taken more than 125 days to vote on a Supreme Court nominee and Garland deserves a "full and fair hearing followed by a vote".

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump:

He says Congress should not consider the nomination, insisting the choice be left to Obama's successor. "They should wait till the next president and let the next president pick," Trump.

But while he sided with Republicans regarding the Supreme Court, he also warned that in the presidential race, a potential contested Republican convention or third-party run could result in a Democratic win. He said that dividing hurts the Republican Party.

Washington Post - Bloomberg / AP

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 05 Dec 2016 08:30:26 Processing Time: 1115ms